Eggs have been a taboo food for decades, since they are high in cholesterol, but the latest science suggests that they might not be as unhealthy as once thought.

In a study published in the journal Heart, researchers from China found that people who ate an average of one egg per day had lower rates of heart disease and an even lower risk of having a bleeding stroke than people who did not eat eggs.

The study included nearly half a million people in China who filled out questionnaires about their egg-eating habits and were followed for nine years on average for heart-related health events.

People who said they ate eggs daily had an 11% lower risk of heart disease, and an 18% lower risk of dying from heart disease during the study period compared to people who did not eat eggs. The benefit seemed to be strongest for stroke; daily egg-eaters had a 26% lower risk of bleeding-related stroke and a 10% lower risk of clot-based stroke.

The results add to the shifting thinking about the health benefits of eggs, and of cholesterol and fat in the diet in general. Recent studies have shown that eating foods high in cholesterol does not necessarily lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels that put the heart at risk. And while eggs may be high in total cholesterol, much of that is due to their high HDL, or good cholesterol. HDL can combat the process of atherosclerosis — buildup of fat in blood vessel walls — and therefore lower the risk of heart disease.

Eggs are also a good source of protein, which can help satiety and reduce the risk of obesity, another risk factor for heart problems. And eggs contain important nutrients that can reduce the risk of inflammation, another dangerous process that can put the heart at risk.

The study doesn’t prove that eating eggs can protect against heart disease or stroke, but the large number of people involved makes a strong case that eggs should not be as villainized as they once were. The heart-healthy components of eggs may be even more important than the cholesterol that has attracted so much attention in the past.

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